Jim Stempel
Jim Stempel

Author Jim Stempel, of Union Bridge, said his interest in Civil War history can be traced to his childhood, and time spent in the area. Stempel's latest novel, a piece of Civil War historical fiction entitled "Albemarle," was recently nominated for the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction, given biennially by The Society of American Historians.

"The Civil War is all around here. My sister went to Gettysburg College, and I walked all over Gettysburg as a kid," Stempel said. "If you have any interest at all in history, it's everywhere you care to look."


The prize is awarded for historical fiction based on the particular work's contribution to historical understanding and authenticity. Judges include historian Jane Kamensky, journalist Nick Lemann and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz.

The award will be given May 11, and features a $2,000 prize.

The novel tells of the 1864 raid of the Confederate ironclad CSS Albemarle, a ship located off the coast of North Carolina's Roanoke River. Stempel said the novel follows three main characters, the Union naval lieutenant attempting to take the ship, the Confederate officer defending his boat, and President Abraham Lincoln.

In recent years, Stempel's writing has been devoted to nonfiction works, publishing books including "The Battle of Glendale: The Day the South Nearly Won the Civil War," and "The Nature of War: Origins and Evolution of Violent Conflict."

"Albemarle" got its start as another piece of Stempel's research for his nonfiction work. He said he didn't know much about the naval aspect of the Civil War, but in his research became fascinated by the story. He said he pitched the idea of writing a historical fiction piece at the time, but it was rejected, and instead became another non-fiction work, "The CSS Albemarle and William Cushing: The Remarkable Confederate Ironclad and the Union Officer Who Sank It."

"I had done so much work, but I never lost the idea that this could be better presented to the public as historical fiction," Stempel said. "I made a few calls, and found out that Fireship Press does historical fiction. They liked it and we just went from there."

Stempel said he enjoys both nonfiction and fiction writing, but his preferences lean more toward novel-writing.

"Nonfiction is basically scholarly. If you put it down, you have to be able to support it all," Stempel said. "I started as a novelist, and I've written short stories, and I've found it more enjoyable. You can put a lot more into it. In nonfiction, you can't put down what people were thinking or feeling unless you can completely justify it."

Stempel said he feels the ability to get into the characters' heads allows historical fiction to connect more strongly with the reader.

"Historical fiction makes it more like life, and it connects with people better. It allows you to write good history," Stempel said. "The only creative stuff is in conversations between people. I don't change any of the facts in the stories. Everything happens how it happened."